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"Between Man and Man"

02/19/2020 10:42:33 AM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week's parashah, Parashat Mishpatim, we read the following verse: "And these are the laws that you shall place before them:...." (Shemot 21:1)  The great Medieval commentator Rashi indicates that the Hebrew word "eilah" ("these") used in this verse connects this week's parashah with last week's parsahah, Parashat Yitro, in which the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments/Utterances) were given.  Rashi states that because of this connection, we can conclude that the laws mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim were given to Moshe at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).  The question is asked: Is it not obvious that the entire Torah was given to Moshe at Har SinaiRaav (Rabbeinu Ovadiah M'Bartenura) points out that Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) begins as follows: "Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua transmitted it to the Elders...."  (Perek Rishon, Pasuk AlephPirkei Avot deals with no laws; it deals with ethics and character traits that every Jew should strive to make a part of his/her life.  Raav states that, although many scholars of non-Jewish civilizations have written similar texts, the difference is the origin of these teachings.  Rabbi Simcha Sheps, z"l, one of the Roshei Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath, stated that this is just what Rashi is pointing out as well.  He said that Rashi was teaching us that every word of this week's parashah was given to Moshe at Har Sinai.

It is a fact that every religion and even secularists, who by definition are non-religious, have ethics by which society is expected to live.  "The New York Times" has a weekly column written by someone with the pen name of "The Ethicist" who determines what is considered ethical.  And then there is the famous "Miss Manners" column which is syndicated three times each week in over 200 newspapers.  The author of this column is "the final authority" on good manners and proper behavior for millions of Americans.  So, you may ask, what's the difference between their ethics and Jewish ethics?  Let's look at couple of examples.

We read the following in this week's parashah: "You shall not accept a false report...." (Shemot 23:1)  This law commands us not to engage in lashon hara (evil tongue): gossip.  However, going beyond the plain meaning of the text as found in the Torah, our tradition teaches us that speaking lashon hara is prohibited even if the story being told is 100% true.  A secular ethicist would protest asking what is wrong with telling a true story.  After all, the truth is paramount in all cases.  S/he might even ask who would make up such a law.  In another example we find that the Torah tells us that we are commanded to help our enemy in need before we help our friend in need: "When you will encounter the ox of he who hates you or see his donkey that is wandering, you shall surely return it to him!  Perhaps you will see the donkey of he who hates you lying beneath its load, and you will refrain from helping him!?!  You shall indeed help him!"  (Shemot 23:4-5)  These laws appear to be counterintuitive, but the fact is that they were given to us by Hashem at Har Sinai.  They are not the product of the so-called reason and logic of human beings.  It is that person who will commit him/herself to abiding by these laws, laws dictating how relationships are maintained between human beings, who will come out ahead each and every time.

Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781